Imposing Chaos

This may sound counter-intuitive, but I didn’t think about THE HERO while querying agents. I wrote the very best book I could possibly write, sent it out into the void, and closed the Word doc. I didn’t open it again until I signed with Michelle.

In the meantime, I dove into the next book. After focusing on THE HERO for two years, it was at once scary and refreshing to start something new. Refreshing because the story could go anywhere and become anything. Scary because chaos makes me anxious.

I splash words and sentences across the page with abandon, but I struggle with structure. My first drafts are plodding and description-heavy, full of tangents and extra characters.

I don’t like plodding, description-heavy books full of tangents and extra characters. I like books that are tightly constructed, in which every character has an arc, every scene achieves multiple goals, and every word has earned its right to exist, exactly where it stands. But these tight, compelling books do not come naturally to me.

For me, constructing a plot is painstaking work. I write my first drafts in bits and bursts. Then I cram all the little bits together, shuffling them around and forcing them into different combinations, like puzzle pieces.  During this process, I usually discover that most of the bits don’t fit together, so I scrap them and write new bits and more new bits and still more new bits, trimming a corner here and adding a sharp edge there, shuffling them around until a plot begins to take shape.  Then—and only then—can I begin to enforce structure, to impose order on chaos. This is the exciting part, because I’m usually surprised by the picture that the pieces end up making.

This excitement comes with a price. As the pieces begin to fall into place, the writing becomes more comfortable—and confining. Revisions become more careful, more considered. A change to a scene on page three will ripple throughout the entire manuscript. There is less freedom to explore, and more pressure to write within an established framework.

So it has been liberating to dive into the first draft of TBD with the knowledge that the story can go anywhere, because I haven’t yet discovered what the big picture should look like. I have three possible endings. The characters all seem to have amnesia, and sometimes they merge into each other. The middle is sketchy at best. But that’s okay. I’m enjoying the freedom while it lasts.

As I’ve transitioned back to THE HERO, I’ve tried to hold onto this messy first-draft mentality. I’ve been fighting my impulse to revise within the established framework I worked so hard to construct. I’m resisting my urge to track every minor word change, carefully consider the addition of every sentence, and write copious pro-and-con lists before excising a paragraph.

Because that’s no way to write a bold, electrifying book.

Instead, I’m approaching this fourth draft as if it were my first. I’m going off the map of this world I thought I knew so well. I’m exposing my characters’ darkest secrets. I’m smashing the book apart and rearranging the pieces. I am imposing chaos on order.

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5 thoughts on “Imposing Chaos

  1. Andrew Kozma says:

    Good luck on the revision process.

    Going back in like it’s the first draft sounds like a daunting task, all the supports you’ve put in place to hold everything up now at risk though that sense of danger might make everything more electrifying.

    My first drafts are pretty close to finished. I don’t mean that they’re done, or that I write perfectly, but that I construct the form as I go and stick pretty well within that emerging form. I don’t usually have (or give myself) the freedom to go crazy with the cheese whiz.

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